The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Serko dives on NZX debut

Chief executive, who has retained a more than 20% shareholding, remains upbeat.

Serko co-founders Bob Shaw (left) and Darrin Grafton bang a gong to mark the company's listing on the NZX yesterday. Photo / Chris Gorman
Serko co-founders Bob Shaw (left) and Darrin Grafton bang a gong to mark the company's listing on the NZX yesterday. Photo / Chris Gorman

Serko took a beating on its sharemarket debut yesterday, with its shares falling by almost 14 per cent, but chief executive Darrin Grafton says the firm is poised to be New Zealand's "next tech story".

Investors are on the lookout for an up-and-coming Kiwi technology player that could rival the success of online accounting software provider Xero.

Grafton said Serko, which develops cloud-based corporate travel booking software, aspired to be that firm. "We'll do it on our own merits - not based on what Xero is doing," he said.

"My goal, when I wake up in the morning, is to have the next billion dollar tech business in New Zealand. From 2009 to 2013 we grew our business by over 500 per cent and that was through market share."

Serko is the first technology firm to list on the NZX in 2014, a year in which tech equities have been hit by a global sell-off as investors reassess the soaring valuations of many businesses with big promises of future growth and profit.

Xero shares - which hit a record high of $44.98 in March, valuing the company at $5.7 billion - sank to a nine-month low of $23 yesterday before regaining ground to close at $25.92.

Serko shares fell 15c, or 13.6 per cent, from the $1.10 issue price to close at 95c last night. Analysts said the drop could have been the result of the listing taking place on a day when other growth-focused stocks such as Xero and Pacific Edge also fell.

With the listing completed, Grafton said the company was focused on growing the business and bringing new products to market.

Serko - whose software is used by roughly 6000 corporations and government agencies across the Asia Pacific region - raised $22 million in its initial public offer (IPO). Cash raised through the listing will be used to employ staff and fund the firm's growth ambitions.

Grafton, who has retained a more than 20 per cent shareholding in Serko, said a smartphone app would be released for trials with "select user groups" in the next two to three weeks.

"This is a specially customised app designed around the pains of travel," he said.

Serko's technology allows travel management companies to better manage bookings for their corporate travellers, connecting to airlines, as well as hotels and rental cars and allows the user to make online bookings based on a company's travel policy.

The company processes around US$3 billion ($3.5 billion) in travel spending across the Asia Pacific and has forecast $11 million in revenue for the financial year ending March 2015.

Serko is anticipating bottom-line losses for at least two years as it pushes for growth in the US$380 billion Asia Pacific corporate travel market.

Grafton said the firm - which closed the public pool component of its IPO early due to strong demand - had more than 900 shareholders following the listing.

Rocky debut put down to bad timing

Software developer Serko's rocky sharemarket debut could have been unlucky timing, with other growth-focused stocks including Xero and Pacific Edge facing a sell-off yesterday, analysts say.

The company's newly listed stock initially rose from the $1.10 issue price to $1.13, before plunging to close down almost 14 per cent at 95c.

Serko's corporate travel booking software is used by travel management companies to better manage bookings for their clients.

"If Serko had listed on a day that was a bit friendlier to those sorts of [high-growth] stocks then it might of held up a little better," said Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners.

Xero's falling stock price prompted an inquiry from sharemarket operator NZX. Like Xero and Pacific Edge, Serko is anticipating ongoing losses as it chases growth.

Lister pointed out that Wynyard Group shares also fell on the security software firm's NZX debut last year, but that company's stock recovered and went on to perform strongly.

"Sometimes you've got to give these things a bit of time for the dust to settle," he said.

Rickey Ward, JBWere's New Zealand equity manager, said the fall in Serko shares reflected "general nervousness" in the market about tech companies, which were challenging to analyse and value.

"It might be just bad timing on their part and they [Serko] can't be held accountable for that."

Shares in Kathmandu plunged 11.5 per cent to close at $3.15 after the company released a poor trading update. The NZX50 closed down 5 points, or 0.1 per cent at 5121.2.

- NZ Herald

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